Do we have a real race for Attorney General?
It’s early, but according to a Jan. 16-24 Public Policy Voting survey of 591 voters, Attorney General Pam Bondi is running 37 percent to 34 percent against George Sheldon, and 37 percent to 35 percent against Perry Thurston.
Despite those numbers, Bondi has one insurmountable edge: a huge and largely untapped campaign warchest of about $2 million. Sheldon, a former secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families, and Thurston, who is House Minority Leader, D-Fort Lauderdale, have raised a mere fraction of that, some of which will be diverted in the contest for the Democratic nomination between the two of them.
But during Wednesday’s annual AP Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee before editors and reporters, Sheldon and Thurston attacked Bondi's strength by strongly criticizing her campaign fundraising.
In answering a question about what he would do different than Bondi, Sheldon said he would focus his attention on white collar crime.
“I’m very concerned, for instance, about the open investigation on a cyber university involving Donald Trump and that investigation kind of evaporated after a $25,000 contribution was made,” Sheldon said. “We have to be very careful not to adopt a pay-for-play mindset. If you open an investigation, I think an attorney general should not accept any contributions from that company even if you close it with no findings because it taints the appearance of the action the attorney general takes.”
Sheldon was referring to a $25,000 contribution that Donald Trump made to one of Bondi’s re-election committees in September, three days after an Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman said Bondi was reviewing allegations in a lawsuit filed by New York’s attorney general against get-rich seminars associated with Trump. Several complaints filed with the Florida’s Attorney General’s office were cited by Eric Schneiderman, New York’s AG.
But Bondi hasn’t opened or started a case. In October, a Bondi spokeswoman said that no action is necessary because Florida consumers would be compensated if New York wins the case. And only one person in Florida, Charles Jacobson of Delray Beach, has filed a complaint while Bondi has been in office.
Speaking a couple hours after Sheldon, Bondi emphatically told reporters she took strong offense at Sheldon’s remarks, which had been televised on the Florida Channel.
“That’s untrue, it’s offensive,” Bondi said. “It’s despicable that someone running for chief legal officer would say such a lie. He needs to know his facts before he talks. Oh, I heard it, and let me explain to you, first of all, the entire time that I’ve been in office, my office received one complaint, not an investigation, one complaint shortly after I was elected in 2011, that was closed out by my Citizens Services Department back in 2011, that was handled by consumer protection, closed out. There has never been an active investigation, never, in Florida, during my tenure. One complaint in 2011, closed out by Citizens Services, is not an active investigation. But I’m sorry, that’s completely misleading and insulting to say that I took a campaign contribution -- and let me give you his quote because I wrote it down, because I’m not letting this one go: That I would make a criminal investigation evaporate? C’mon. You want somebody like that to be your attorney general who’s going to say things like that? Donald Trump was not under investigation, is not under investigation by my office.”
Later, she added that Sheldon’s comments were “despicable and disgusting”.
Appearing after Bondi, Thurston sidestepped the Trump contribution issue.
“I heard her a little bit irritated about some of the comments that Mr. Sheldon and some others had made,” Thurston said. “And they’ll have to own their own comments.”
But he slammed Bondi for an execution she postponed so she could attend a fundraiser.
“It’s wholly unacceptable and indefensible to cancel an execution for a political fundraiser,” Thurston said. “It’s incredible that one would even think that. To cancel an execution for a fundraiser. Regardless of what you think about the death penalty, or what your position is, it’s the victim's family who prepared themselves, who have made the effort to make sure that they’re in a position to actually receive this final justice. And for a fundraiser?”
Unlike with the Trump contribution, where she maintains nothing improper was done, Bondi has apologized for the postponed execution.